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Teaching in the Age of Bling

by Uzzie Cannon

November 6,2007

Entering academe to teach was no small endeavor for me. It was to be a near ultimate feat for me after having spent youthful summer afternoons on my porch imitating those great, compassionate teachers from kindergarten. My feat honored the language arts teacher in elementary school who taught me “the ways of the world” in the titled textbook. Add the passion and intelligence that all my English professors possessed through my college career, one would end up with a college professor ready and willing to be of use in higher education. Well, let me rephrase that last statement, “a college professor who once was ready and willing to be of use in higher education. I find it difficult to enjoy teaching anymore because secondary education and society at large have made it quite challenging, if not impossible. The fact of the matter is that the students entering college aren’t as prepared as they should be and that frightens me. A failing education system and a pernicious view of money in our society have deprived me of my “birthright” to inspire young minds to wisdom.

Simply explained, “under-prepared” refers to those individuals who possess limited basic skills like reading, writing, and critical thinking necessary for success in college. The only skill sets most come prepared with are test-taking skills – and even those are suspect. Consequently, as a college professor, I am left to not only lay a foundation, but also build the house. That is, I have to teach reading comprehension and grammar and teach students how to expand their critical thinking skills all in one term. Is this really the office of a college professor? I happen to think as Ralph Waldo Emerson claims, “The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances.” This task requires that I teach students how to think about the world around them with the purpose of establishing their own personal beliefs and values, not how to regurgitate or imitate what came before.

Higher education by definition transcends secondary education. Secondary education should expose students to higher order thinking skills: knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. Higher education fine tunes these skills. For example, students should come to college knowing who fought in the Civil War and when it happened. In college, they should analyze that part of history and synthesize and evaluate the facts with the purpose of possibly establishing an original and meaningful way of reconsidering the implications of that war on race relations today. This is what a professor would expect to happen; however, what actually happens is that we receive students who think the Civil War took place during the 1700s and then ask, “Why should we care about something that happened so long ago.” Ugh!

Secondary education isn’t the only culprit responsible for the disappointment I teach with daily. Society’s love of the almighty dollar does not help either because student come to college thinking that the purpose for going to college is to get a job to make “lots” of money. Of course, a college degree often does not yield such results. Yet, in the age of “bling” when everyone aims to drive the latest “Benz” and even “Fido” has a string of diamonds around his neck, how can I convince students otherwise? Most never know that they will have to work seventy-hour weeks, miss seeing significant others, and probably end up selling their soul to a job they will actually come to hate. And because they want all that money can buy, they will never realize that they are stuck in an endless cycle of consumerism from which there is no exiting. Had they this critical insight before coming to college, they wouldn’t make the grave mistake of thinking college is something more than a way to know and understand themselves and the world around them. They would not come wanting me to give all the answers instead of them posing all the right questions. Yet, in this day and age, this is what gratuitous testing and the love of “bling” will get you: disinterested millionaire-wannabe students and a crestfallen professor.

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